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  • Washington Highlights

    Senate and House Committees Hold Hearings on Insurance Exchanges

    Len Marquez, Senior Director, Government Relations

    The Senate HELP Committee Feb. 1 held a hearing on the stability of the individual insurance market. Witnesses included members representing America's Health Insurance Plans, the National Association of Health Underwriters and the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, and former Kentucky Governor Steven Beshear.

    In his opening statement, Senate HELP Chair Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) stated, “We may reach a situation in 2018 where many Americans have a subsidy through the Affordable Care Act to buy insurance in the individual market, but they don’t have any insurance to buy.”

    Democrats on the committee expressed their concern with repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) without a replacement. Senate HELP Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said that repealing the ACA without a replacement “will create chaos throughout our healthcare system.”

    The hearing discussion touched on the need to provide fixes to parts of the ACA, but also stressed the negative impact of reforming without a plan. In her testimony, Julie Mix McPeak, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance said, “Insurance markets do not respond well to uncertainty. To the extent possible as you consider ACA reforms, it will be very important to remain transparent, as today’s hearing suggests, to engage stakeholders, and to minimize surprises in our regulatory system.”

    On the House side, the Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee held a Feb. 2 hearing focused on four Republican legislative proposals aimed at stabilizing the health insurance markets including; the Plan Verification and Fairness Act of 2017, the State Age Rating Flexibility Act of 2017, the Health Coverage State Flexibility Act of 2017, and the Preexisting Conditions Protection and Continuous Coverage Incentive Act of 2017.

    In his opening statement, Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Greg Walden (R-Ore.) blamed the ACA for challenges in the individual insurance market saying, “We all know the damage Obamacare has wrought on our health care system, which is why this committee is hard at work crafting reconciliation language to repeal it. But today, we begin the important work of laying the foundation to rebuild America’s health care markets as we dismantle Obamacare; especially, saving the individual market from total collapse—which is where it is headed absent our intervention.”

    The Chairman went on to describe the importance of the legislation being discussed and explained the “proposals before us today close enrollment gaps, protect taxpayers, and give patients cost relief. The first three bills should come as no surprise – they were introduced last Congress, and were the topic of two hearings in this subcommittee. The other proposal is equally important to all of us. We will ensure patients with pre-existing conditions will always have access to coverage and care. Period.”

    Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) continued Democrats’ strong criticism of Republican ACA repeal and replace efforts stating, “Republicans have been rooting for the demise of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for seven years, actively trying to sabotage the law. They have done this under the guise of having ‘a better way.’” Pallone then went on to criticize the draft proposals saying, “The bills we are discussing today are supposedly ‘the first pieces’ of the Republican’s elusive plan. So essentially, after a 7year smear campaign on the ACA, they intend to move forward three bills from last Congress that help insurance companies instead of people. Another new bill, the only quote-unquote replacement, is literally half-written.”